AIG’s DevOps Journey

I’m fortunate to have a role which allows me to learn from many large organizations that are constantly re-inventing themselves. It’s not everyday, however, that you hear about an IT-infrastructure-focused executive leading their company away from traditional infrastructure methods and toward DevOps and the cloud. Last week, I was pleasantly surprised by a private note from Salvatore Saieva responding to my post on What Makes Good Leaders Great. The enthusiasm in his note, coupled with what I’ve learned from Salvatore in the short time we’ve spent discussing AIG’s journey, made me think that many others might benefit from hearing his story. And, he was kind enough to let me post it. Without further ado….

(Note: these best practices, and a number of others, are now available in my book Ahead in the Cloud: Best Practices for Navigating the Future of Enterprise IT).

In the latter half of 2012 we were an infrastructure support team managing production applications on VCE Vblock equipment. The converged technology of the Vblock delivered on its promise of operating a reliable virtualized environment and we found that we were spending almost no time toiling with hardware, wires, and racking servers in the production datacenter that was also our responsibility to operate. As IT professionals we felt privileged to work with converged technology and we also felt it might afford us bigger opportunities that we didn’t want to squander.

We discussed the IT team we wanted to be. We imagined a way of working that allowed us to contribute to higher layers of the technology stack, closer to where applications operate and where our work would be more highly valued. We rewrote our first job description to include automation skills in scripting languages, perspectives for using Agile methods, and experience in efficient repeatable processes influenced by Continuous approaches. We took that new job description, put it in a shared network directory, and we asked our whole team if it was right: Does the definition of this role properly describe the new team member we want to work with? Does this role describe the way we want to work as managers and as individual contributors? Everyone had the opportunity to improve the new job description and everyone contributed to finding the first person who had the skills we wanted to adopt.

We discussed how we would get there together. Once we had a viewpoint for conducting our work thru automated methods, we started to become very frustrated by manual, interactive, and error prone processes. We had stopped toiling in the datacenter and we no longer had any patience for toiling by logging into servers to install and configure (…and install and configure, over-and-over again) as we may have before. We realized our team needed a management agenda to improve our function and to change the way we were working, and, just like that first job description, everyone contributed to our agenda. Operating reliable production environments was our primary responsibility and although we may have had to use traditional methods a little longer, every day, as a team, we made time to change and improve our function. We became keenly aware of our progress and we celebrated every success and every small step forward together.

We discussed how we wanted to collaborate with others. After a while we found our Superpower. Agile helped us organize our work, prioritize it, and be responsive. Automation became a core part of our belief system. But friction developed with other teams that we supported and worked with, teams who had more traditional belief systems. So we imagined how we wanted to work with others and how we could share our Superpower for mutual benefit with others. DevOps gave us the terms, the language, and the common reasons for collaborating together with different teams. That collaboration now delivers results that are “Cloud-Ready.” And whether or not our business teams are ready for operating their applications and data in a Private Cloud or a Public Cloud, we are ready.

Our experience has been from the ground up. We work in a large enterprise environment that can be very bureaucratic. We didn’t wait for a top-level transformational program to be funded for us to change. We felt a responsibility as IT professionals to deliver our function in the best possible way. And once we progressed we felt a responsibility to collaborate better and bring others along with us. The greatest satisfaction comes from the progress we make together.

Salvatore Saieva
AIG, Inc.
CTO Lead for Public Cloud Projects and Initiatives